Since 1996, That Uppity Theatre Company has focused on developing projects that bring together amateur performers with professional artists to create innovative material based on lived experience. In 1995, theatre artist Joan Lipkin and occupational therapist Fran Cohen co-founded "the DisAbility Project." Comprised of people with and without disabilities to model inclusion, the project creates and tours original material about the culture of disability. We have performed for almost 100,000 people, received numerous awards and international recognition as one of the oldest and few projects of its kind in the country. (more...)
Joan Lipkin (Artistic Director)
Joan specializes in creating works with socially relevant themes and underserved populations. Her company has received numerous commissions from various organizations. She has worked extensively with people with disabilities, women with cancer, GLBTQ youth and adults, people with early stage dementia and Alzheimer’s and at risk youth.
A playwright, director, activist, educator, and social critic, her award-winning work has been published and produced throughout the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Europe, Australia, and Asia. She has been featured on network television, National Public Radio, the BBC and the Associated Press and in a number of theatrical journals.
Fran Cohen (Co-Founder of The DisAbility Project, Consultant,
Vanessa Roman (Artistic Associate) began her career working in theater in 2001, while she was earning her degree in English/Media Communications from Webster University. Since then she has worked for many professional theater companies in the St. Louis area, acting, directing and as an award winning produced playwright. Currently, she is resident director and dramaturge for First Run Theatre as well as serving as President of the St. Louis chapter of MCA (Media Communications Association). In addition to theater, she is also an award winning screen writer and director. Ms. Roman has appeared in, and written and directed several films that have played internationally.
Kevin Chestnut (Assistant Administrative Director, Stage Manager)
Becky Galambos (Arts Administration Assistant) is an alumna of William Jewell College in Liberty, MO where she was an active member of Jewell Theatre Company and Alpha Psi Omega Theatre Honorary while pursuing a B.A. in History. During her time with JCT, she was frequently seen in character roles, and was active behind the scenes in the costuming, set construction and various other technical crews. She made her directing debut with Anton In Show Business with JCT in 2005. In addition to theatrical interests, Becky is a quilter and textile artist, active in Flower Valley Quilt Guild, and is a member of the First Monday Quilters charity quilting group.
Ivan Brown (Guest Artist)
Sara Burke (Choreographer)
Sara Locker (Guest Artist)
Joe O'Connor is a professional artist who joined the ensemble in 2013. He was born and raised in Jersey City and is a graduate of Seton Hall University and the Drama Studio of London. He was on the board for All Souls Players in New York City for ten years and has worked in most every area of the theater for over 40 years, and has worked in St. Louis theater for the last seven years. Favorite roles include those of Dr. Frederick Treves in The Elephant Man, Thomas Cromwell in A Man For All Seasons, and Bottom the Weaver in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
J.T. Ricroft (Choreographer)
Marissa Roman is a performer new to the DP this year. She has been acting since the age of six when she did an award-winning short film called All Fall Down. Since then, she has gone on to do five more films, winning Best Juvenile actress at The St. Louis Filmmaker's Showcase in 2010. When she was 11, she played the role of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker for Clayton Community Theater. She continued with many more stage roles at First Run Theatre and at Parkway North High School. She particularly enjoyed the roles of Gayle in Almost Maine and Evelyn in The Children's Hour. Her film roles attracted the attention of Los Angeles agent Valentina Graham and she is currently represented both in St. Louis and in Los Angeles.
Felicia Scott A native St. Louisan, Felicia Scott (AKA "Scotti") has been part the local arts scene for years. Majoring in music at Fontbonne University (voice, education, and music-business), she has been recognized for her vocal talents in classical, jazz/blues, and gospel music as well as her leadership in the arts community, beginning with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the recording arts. Scotti became a household name and recognized voice-over talent from her music segment on the popular "Lavender Limelight" community radio show during the late 90s and her jazz show on local radio stations. She is also well-known for her work as Executive Director and DJ of Wired Women, Inc., a production company that supported the St. Louis women’s community for over 20 years by producing concert events and hosting women's dances across the St. Louis metropolitan area. Currently, she serves as a volunteer Chaplain and works professionally as a human resources consultant.
Jessica Sibert (Performer) joined the DP this year and has been acting since junior high school. In addition to her stage work, she has participated in children's traveling theater troupes and reader's theater. Her favorite shows include Scrooge, Seussical, The Christmas Show, and Don't Feed the Bully. She also performed with The Epic Historical Singers of MDA Central Casting Studio. Her most recent project was performing The Brother's Grimm Spectaculathon with ACTT where she played Rapunzel and Cinderella. She had a lead role in the play Tony and Liz Tie the Knot with Inspired Productions Theater, a play and interactive dinner theater, the annual fundraiser for Action for Autism performed at the Gaslight Theater, and then picked up for a second run in Troy, Missouri.
Angie Bilyeu (Performer) has been acting since age 10 and joined the DP the summer of 2013. She attended St. Louis University and graduated early with a B.A. in Theatre with a minor in Communication. She was a member of the Alpha Psi Omega theatre honors fraternity and treasurer of Alpha Psi Omega for 2 years. She works full time for her family home remodeling business as office manager, part time as a bartender/barback in Carbondale, and has a business that she started with a friend 5 years ago scooping up after dogs. Acting is her passion and she plans to pursue a film career in L.A. as well as a little stage work.
Malia Wirtel (Performer) received her BFA in Theatre from Stephens College in Columbia, MO. Since graduating, she has worked for the Kentucky Repertory Theatre as a resident actor & director and recently moved back to St. Louis. She feels blessed to be working with the DisAbility Project and all of its talented members.
Bobbie Williams (Performer) is a professional actress and entertainer who serves as Artistic Associate with the project and has been performing in the ensemble since 2011. She has worked as a college tutor and work aide to students who are blind or differently abled, as well as an instructional aide for elementary students from seven countries. She has acted and sung throughout the country and in St. Louis has been seen in performances with Metro Theater, Stray Dog Theatre, First Run Theatre, Soundstage Productions, Footlighters Theatre, and Unity Ensemble.
Tom Allen (Performer)
He has been a member of the DisAbility Project for over five years. His love of acting comes only second to his love for painting. As a result of brain tumors, Tom has epilepsy and is blind in one eye. He says it doesn't stop him from painting or living to his fullest.
David Eric (Performer)
Lucy “Lockett” Grondahl (Performer)
Ana Jennings (Performer) has been acting with the DP since 2000, has a spinal cord injury, and uses a power wheelchair. She has volunteered doing voice-overs for KDHX and continually advocates for people with all types of disabilities. She has a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Education from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Bryan Jones (Performer)
Margaret Jorgensen (Performer) has been with the DP since 2007. Her disability was acquired and diagnosed six years earlier. She has two forms of arthritis that limit her mobility (degenerative joint disease and rheumatoid arthritis) and uses a manual wheelchair for mobility. She has been a writer, editor, and photographer for over 20 years, most recently at the Ste. Genevieve Herald for 10 years. She has a degree in Writing and Journalism from Missouri State. Currently, she works at a sheltered workshop.
What we are doing...
Since 1996, That Uppity Theatre Company has focused on developing projects that bring together amateur performers with professional artists to create innovative material based on lived experience. In 1995, theatre artist Joan Lipkin and occupational therapist Fran Cohen co-founded the DisAbility Project. Comprised of people with and without disabilities to model inclusion, the project creates and tours original material about the culture of disability. We have performed for almost 100,000 people, received numerous awards and international recognition as one of the oldest and few projects of its kind in the country.
We rehearse most Thursdays in space donated by Central Reform Congregation, in the Central West End of the city of St. Louis. Most rehearsals are open to the public. Our season runs September through July, with the majority of our performances taking place throughout Missouri and Illinois.
People with disabilities are typically absent from representation and participation in our cultural landscape. According to the 2000 Missouri Census, an estimated 17% of the population in the state experiences some form of disability, whether it is sensory, cognitive, or mobility related. With over 55 million people with disabilities in the United States, it is the largest and most financially challenged population in the country.
Now in its 17th season, the DisAbility Project brings awareness and sensitivity to issues in the disability community through a combination of art and advocacy that tours to a variety of audiences. The project presents at educational institutions, conferences, special events, festivals, religious and civic groups, and corporations.
Our group is comprised of people with and without disabilities who are diverse in age, race, ethnicity, class, occupation, education, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability, and performance experience.
Some of the challenges facing participants include alcoholism, amputation, asthma, bipolar disorder, blindness, brain injury, cancer, cerebral palsy, cognitive delay, depression, Down syndrome, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, polio, spina bifida, spinal cord injury, and stroke.
Ensemble members engage in conversation, writing, sound, movement and theatrical exercises to create educational and entertaining performance pieces on the culture of disability. Many people with disabilities are finding both a sense of community and an outlet for their talents in the project, while our artists without disabilities have had their worldview expanded.
In recognition of our groundbreaking work, we have received numerous awards including the Governor’s Council on Disability Community Enhancement, Focus What's Right with the Region for Improving Racial Equality and Social Justice, John van Voris, Human Rights Campaign Organizational Equality Award, and Arts for Life Special Recognition among others.
"For me, the DP is a group of friends getting together for laughs
and to create art--and by the way we also promote advocacy for
the disabled and create awareness and education for those not familiar
with the culture of disability or those who may be disabled. The
DP offers something that no other group offers unconditional acceptance.
Being with my pals in the group uplifts me, even when I'm having
the worst of days. We laugh, we cry, we create awareness. I volunteered
with the DP because of my love of theater...I stay with the group
because of my love for what we do, who we are and what we stand
"Originally, it meant just an opportunity to create some theater
with a woman who was nationally known in performance art circles.
I wasn't necessarily attracted to or repulsed by the subject matter
of the theater we would be creating, just interested in getting
some acting experience. Of course, it has come to mean much more
to me. It has raised my consciousness in a way that I was not aware
needed raising. It has helped me to lose my fear of disability.
It has made me realize that we can handle whatever God has given
us. It's taught me that we can not only survive calamity but thrive
as well. I hope it's made me a more sympathetic and empathetic
human being. And it's given me lots of theater acting and writing
"Being a member of the DisAbility Project changed my life. It has
offered me the opportunity for self-expression; a creative forum
in which to have my message heard. Performing tickles my sense
of humor, and sparks my joy in being before an audience. Also,
group members fill me socially with safety, friendship and love."
"The DisAbility Project has given me a chance to let down my defenses with in the safety of accepting and supportive friends. Our performances give me a chance to express myself with out having to struggle to find the right words. I look forward to our meetings and our performances. The DisAbility Project is helping me to let go of my fears and open up to others. It brings much joy into my life and has given me friends with whom I can be myself.
I look forward to all our gigs. I get a lot of joy out of our
performances. Performing gives me a chance to express myself without
struggling to find the right words. Thank you for the opportunities
you've given me to do this."
"The DisAbility Project blows me away! I'm so honored to be able
to work with such talented, creative and loving human beings. As
I've said at the closing of many shows, the project is in essence
like a support group for me. Yet, instead of complaining about
our individual woes and challenges, we create art. Through this
art we are able to inform, inspire, enrich and enlighten. I know
that in the six months I've been with the Project, I've grown tremendously
in spirit and knowledge."
"Working with The DisAbility Project gives me the opportunity to
flesh out ideas that deal with poetic physical metaphors. It's
a chance to sharpen my skills as a teacher and director, teaches
me valuable lessons in choosing words carefully and allows me to
share my creativity with a very receptive group of performers."
"Four years ago, I joined The DisAbility Project. Since I became
a member of the ensemble, I’ve developed a great deal more self-respect
with the knowledge that I’m making a difference in how people look
at disability. My own perspective on disability has also changed.
I used to feel very self-conscious about my disability. Now, I
find myself motivated to find new ways to adapt. The DisAbility
Project is a great support system. I’ve made new friendships, and
feel far less isolated than I used to. Acting on stage has helped
me improve my speech, too."
"It has been a wonderful experience working with the DisAbility
Project as a choreographer. In the past, I have worked exclusively
with able bodied, usually trained dancers. Working with this group
has allowed me to explore completely new movement vocabularies.
Besides, what a terrific group of people they are. The DP always
leaves me inspired."
"When I was 19 years old, my mother convinced me to get my eyes examined. I had been complaining about not being able to see road signs at night or recognize faces from a distance. I thought, "my eyes may not be perfect, but I'm functioning just fine". But, I went anyway. They switched these lenses back and forth over each eye while I told them which one looked best. Then they made me a pair of glasses and brought them out to me. Miraculous! I put them on and looked out into the mall. Signs had individual letters on them, people's faces were up close, and everything had definition!! This vivid world had always existed, but I was blind to it. I didn't know what I was missing.
Like new lenses, my involvement with DP has given me an invaluable
outlook on the world as it truly exists for a large population
of people. Shouldn't we strive to know what this earthly experience
is like for all people? By doing so, we expand our understanding
and our very souls."
" My biggest accomplishment so far has been my work with That Uppity
Theatre Company and The DisAbility Project, under the leadership
of Joan Lipkin. Working with the ensemble has fostered my creativity
and given me opportunities that I never would have had otherwise.
And I have made life-long friends. People whom I think of as family.
Last year, when times were tough for the group due to several illnesses
and absences, I had the chance to understudy another woman with
a disability who has been a great inspiration to me. She became
a quadriplegic after a car accident. She has a funny, moving piece
about her dating experiences before and after the accident, and
how she found the love of her life. I performed this piece for
students at Washington University during a performance on “Able-ism.”
I also performed it in theatre class, and got an A. Before working
with the Project, I wouldn’t have imagined performing in front
of an audience. The DisAbility Project has given me confidence
as a young actor and in every area of my life."
"As a member of The DisAbility Project ensemble, I’ve made new
friends, visited new places, and discovered talents I didn’t know
I had. Being in the DP gives me confidence, and motivates me to
explore my capabilities."
"[W]orking with The DisAbility Project, I have finally found an outlet for my creativity. It’s given me more than just a chance to perform again on stage. It’s given me comradeship, confidence, and hope. Now I know, as far as my ambition is concerned, the sky’s the limit.
Love, understanding, and compassion are unique to the DisAbility
Project. The DisAbility Project is family to me."
"I have watched members of the group gain confidence, poise, self assurance, the ability to work as a team member. I have watched people become less reticent, more willing to share themselves and their feelings. Their ability to perform for large audiences and interact with them has enabled them to interact socially in other situations. Bonding in the DP ensemble, I think, can help in forming relationships with other people. Learning lines and rehearsing vignettes has helped those with cognitive problems, and with focusing.
As an Occupational Therapist I am committed to helping people with disabilities reach their full potential and be part of the mainstream of life. The DP, in a natural, uncontrived way, helps the participants learn to take risks and experiment more. It helps them feel good about themselves because they are doing something constructive to help change peoples' perceptions about disability.
I have observed the group in the process of performing gain confidence, poise, self assurance, and the ability to work as a team member. Participants have become less reticent, more willing to share themselves and their feelings. Performing for and interacting with large audiences has enabled them to more easily interact socially in other situations. The bonding that has occurred with the DP ensemble has helped members to form relationships with others. Learning lines and rehearsing vignettes has helped those with cognitive and focusing problems.
The DisAbility project is a powerful tool for enriching the lives
of the participants and all disabled people as well as changing
societal perceptions about disability."
"The DisAbility Project has enabled me to do what I love; performing.
My younger years were filled with live theater experiences. An
auto accident in 1990 put me on wheels. I rolled into my first
rehearsal with the Project and felt right at home."
Where have we performed?
Conferences and Fairs
Churches and Temples
Elementary, Middle, and High Schools
Colleges and Universities
"The group’s theatrical presentation was perfect. Your personal participation was superb; the talent and human interest in the audience was magnificent. It was obvious to all attendees that you knew your subject and that you truly cared about your audience and the subject. In fact, I continue to receive compliments on the CEID program.
I applaud your personal insight and professional assistance with
this Federal Executive Board Program."
"Without exception, the attendees have said it was the highlight of the day! They loved the injection of humor into the pieces and appreciated being able to get the point, without feeling bad or guilty. Obviously, from the comments and questions, the audience was deeply moved. Good theatre evokes emotional responses, opens dialogue and discussion, and allows the audience to experience the lives of the characters. Your performance was very definitely “good”. I hope we can continue this learning experience at future Missouri Commission on Human Rights events.
Again, thank you for your wonderful contribution to our conference."
"All I can say is thank you. Thank you many times over. Please
congratulate each of the performers on an absolutely gorgeous performance."
" I wanted to let you know the girls really enjoyed the show. The
performance kept the girls’ attention and was very well done… I
would definitely recommend the DisAbility Project to others and
encourage other Girl Scout Troops to attend a show in the future."
"I was moved by the self-empowering work that your abled and disabled actors developed and performed. This work captures the best of theater.
Theater has the power to entertain. It can help us remember, and it can help us escape, but, most importantly, theater has the potential to heal, change, and build community. In your performance, the audience is engaged in the present that is a shared moment. Your work offers the audience a way out of stereotyping, preconceived notions, and fearful responses. Because of this, I suggested to the Cathedral that we invite you and the Project to present your work.
I wanted to share the experience of your collaborative work with the people with whom I worship and grow. We witnessed and participated in your performance together with the members of the St. Thomas Church of the Deaf congregation, a group that shares our space on Sundays. Your work helped to instill a new sensitivity in us for each other.
As the Cathedral sets out to rehab the adjoining Bishop Tuttle Memorial Building and return it to its original purpose as an inner city community center, the members of your troupe helped raise our awareness about our limitations as an accessible and welcoming space.
I have a dear friend disabled by seizures, a result of brain injury. He has recently returned to St. Louis for better care. Leaving his relative independence, he was feeling depressed and alienated. You invited him to a Saturday rehearsal, and your welcome into community has changed him.
On behalf of Christ Church Cathedral, I wish you well in your
"Your touring company was a HIT with the staff and students of Kirkwood High School! I must tell you also that our total student body has never received any group any more warmly than your troupe. They understood you. They were moved by what they saw and heard. When it was appropriate for our students to laugh, they laughed. When the mood called for serious consideration, they did that too. And at the close of both assemblies, the students and staff of Kirkwood High School gave the DisAbility Project performers the standing ovations you deserved.
Bravo for your troupe! Thanks for giving us the chance to see
and hear you. Best wishes in your attempt to reach every high school
in Missouri. Our students and staff members need to see you."
"KUDOS to all the performers for their excellent presentation of
the DisAbility Project. You delighted the audience with your spirit
and determination. We were also enriched by the thoughtful scenarios,
the great singing and dancing, the rap, and the beautiful and positive
closing words. THANK YOU so much for "making this play happen!”
May you keep on performing for many more audiences and sharing
this great work. Continued good luck to all of you!"
"The troupe did such an outstanding job today. You enlightened and delighted all of us, children and adults, with your stories, skits, talent, etc....
Thank you so much for sharing your performance with us at Glenridge. We are all a lot richer because of it.
Kudos to everyone, whether it be the performers, director, guest
artists or the people who work in the office to manage all of the
logistics. I have the deepest respect and admiration for the important
work you do."
"The performance yesterday was outstanding!! Tell your performers
thanks! I talked to a number of students after the performance
and they really enjoyed it. Marsha Demba, Teacher, Marquette High
School A+! They (the performers) showed their ability to be a contributing
part of our society. They showed life as 'a glass half-full, not
half empty!' Best was their ability to relate to the fourth grade
audience with fun and confidence. When can you come to our school?
Harry Pickup, Kennard Classical Academy "It was excellent.
I learned to see situations through the eyes of the performers.
The best part of the performance was including the students in
the production and your interaction with them. We are definitely
looking forward to you coming to our school."
"Creative and moving. You realize it could be you. It makes you
think how you would respond if it were you. Would hope you could
be as gracious and as talented."
"I am writing to commend the DisAbility Project for its work with our fourth graders. The performance which your troupe did for our kids provided and excellent introduction for the month-long study of disabilities. The vignettes gave the students clear examples of situations faced by folks with a variety of disabilities. These “stories” helped the students to develop an appreciation for the frustrations, obstacles and successes that make life so different, yet similar. I know you made some modifications in the performance to fit the ages of our students; the results were definitely age-appropriate. In addition, the study guide was helpful to teachers and students.
Finally, the opportunity for our students to speak with the troupe’s actors and actresses was also invaluable. Here again, the students could relate the actors’ and actresses’ experiences to their own lives. The conversations were wonderful!
We are already looking forward to doing this again next year.
Thanks for all the work you and your troupe put into this effort."
"Thank you for the wonderful performance today! The children were
captivated by your creative and entertaining expressions of very
important topics. Please tell all of the performers that it touched
the lives of students, teachers and parents. Thanks again."
"I want to thank That Uppity Theatre Company for the wonderful performance you did for us during our ACCESS Award's Ceremony. The presentation was extremely informative and provided an educational experience for all in an enjoyable, entertaining way.
The feedback that we received from students, faculty, staff, and
members of the community was very positive. Everyone walked away
from the experience with a better appreciation of daily events
that may occur in a person with disabilities life."
"You touched my heart and my mind and so I can only assume that
everyone in attendance was touched in some way. So I want to give
you one final applause on your performance and say thank you. Thank
you for thinking of Maryville University. Thank you for enlightening
our community. And thank you for the work that you do everyday
that brings ability issues to light."
"You taught me an invaluable lesson while making it entertaining
and creative. I thought the performance was wonderful. I learned
so much. I feel really speechless about my feelings. All I can
say is, 'Wow!' and 'Well done!'"
"I liked how it was open to bring up topics that may be sensitive
subjects in other settings. It is important to address these issues."
"To me, the Disability Project means family and friends. The DP
provides a comfortable, nonjudgemental environment where I am not
afraid to be myself. It allows me to have fun and act with a wonderful
group of people who are honest and open. To me, the DP is a community."
"Thank you so much for bringing your group to the Washington University Program in Occupational Therapy last month. My students were deeply moved by the entire program. I don’t think many of them had seen, or even thought about, many of the issues that your group brought forth — dancing in a wheelchair, sexuality, personal pain and jubilation from life — it truly opened their eyes. WE are very fortunate that you were able to bring the group to our Program, and hope that this can be an annual event. Next year I hope, if we are able to have a repeat performance, that Fran Cohen can be in attendance, as she has been a vital force in your program as well as ours.
Thanks again for a wonderful program."
"Your project is wonderful. Every college or school needs to experience
this opportunity to view and hear about personal experiences with
disabilities. Your group is full of talent. Thanks for giving me
the chance to experience this!"
"Thank you so much for the wonderful production you provided at the Direct Support Professionals Conference of St. Charles County. You made the audience more aware of the importance of their roles, as Direct Support Professionals, play in the lives of people with disabilities.
Keep up the wonderful work. The DisAbility Project is making an
impact in the St. Louis area. I look forward to seeing you back
at St. Charles County Community College in the near future."
That Uppity Theatre Company • 4466 West Pine Boulevard, Suite 13C •
Saint Louis, MO 63108